Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted October 21, 2008

Allegheny Review - Beloit Poetry Journal - Chautauqua - Ghost Factory - Iodine - MacGuffin - Mandorla - Ocho - Ping Pong - Raintown Review - River Teeth - Santa Fe Literary Review - Spoon River

 

The Allegheny Review coverThe Allegheny Review

Volume 26

2008

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

The Allegheny Review is a national undergraduate literary magazine published since 1983 at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania. But, if you didn’t know these poems, stories, photos, and drawings were the product of undergraduate students, you might reasonably assume they were created by more experienced artists. And there is something refreshing about focusing solely on the work itself, forgetting about the name at the top of the page. It’s unlikely you’ll have seen this writer or artist’s name before, and it can be a pleasure to read without expectations. I was surprised by and especially liked a sophisticated poem by Robert Campbell, “An Appalachian Book of the Dead,” one of the issue’s award winners; a story by Heather Papp, “Consequences of Reproductive Success”; and a photo by Sean Stewart. I might have mistaken any of these for work by more mature artists, clear-eyed, original, and memorable.

The editors have done an admirable job of selecting an eclectic mix of work in terms of style, tone, and subject matter, though there is a clear preference for narrative poetry and prose that is decidedly conventional. This year’s prose award winner is Mackenzie Shay with a short personal essay, “Our Circle,” a brief description of a support group for people living with manic depression. Shay does a competent job of weaving together an inner meditation, dialogue, and description. Best of all, she knows when to delve deeper, and when not to embellish. “The first rule is that we are all equal. And we are,” she writes. Not everyone, of course, is equally talented. But, these young writers and artists are at least as worthy of our attention as many more seasoned talents.
[webpub.allegheny.edu/group/review]

 

Beloit Poetry Journal coverBeloit Poetry Review

Volume 59 Number 1

Fall 2008

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

What I liked best about this issue of BPR is the dissonance – the clash of tones, styles, voices, and intentions. “During the processing of new acquisitions / evidence of cogitation must be monitored” writes Paul Lisson in a tightly composed prose poem, “Cartesian Melody,” excerpted from “the Perfect aRchive.” “A little celebration: / it is six a.m. and I am not sick.” writes Muriel Nelson in “For the Night People.” “My day as a tragedy / brand manager: the red- / on-void block letter logo / for Backwater Black Widow” begins “If It Bleeds, It Leads,” by Steven D. Schroeder. In some ways, it almost seems as if the poems in this issue belong in 17 different journals (that’s the number of poets who appear here), but together they work to create a marvelous compendium of mismatched styles and tones that somehow coalesce into a unified whole. These poems are some of the most original I’ve read lately. I never had the impression I was reading a poem I’d seen a version of dozens of times before. I was always a little surprised, taken aback, stunned into paying better attention. What more can we hope for from poetry?

I liked Joshua Dolezal’s refusal to end his poem “Little Damascus” (“something knows when you are // when you don’t”), and Paul Lisson’s elaboration on the meaning of information (“The relationship of data. The relationship between entities. What was created was received. That which was received was create”), and Margaret Aho’s risky games with spacing and punctuation, which might seem like a gimmick, but works here because she can support her inventiveness with the heft and determination of a good idea in two extraordinary poems, “geo” and “to be flanking the petiole to be.” And happily, happily, happily this issue’s reviews focus solely on the work of the late (and truly great) Mahmoud Darwish and his exquisite translator and marvelous poet in his own right, Fady Joudah, both of whose work deserves our attention, respect, and serious consideration.
[www.bpj.org]

 

Chautauqua coverChautauqua

Issue 5

2008

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Located on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York, the Chautauqua Writer’s Center celebrated its 20th anniversary this year and its annual review celebrates writers who have contributed to its reputation, success, and creativity with a “moveable feast” in five sections: The Life in Art, Private Lives in Public Life, Our National Life, The Life of the Spirit, and Life Lessons – 360 plus pages of writing by such dependable greats as Dinty Moore, Carl Dennis, Susan Kinsolving, Alan Michael Parker, Ann Pancake, Maura Stanton, Laura Kasischke, Jim Daniels, Robin Becker, Carol Frost, Lee Gutkind, Diane Hume George, and many more.

It could take another 20 years to make your way through this impressive volume. If you don’t have 20 years, I’d suggest you don’t miss Jane McCafferty’s short essay on insomnia, “Welcome to the Demon”; Robert Cording’s poem, “Ossuary, Mt. Athos”; Jan Beatty’s poem, “Procession”; poems by Margaret Gibson and Mary Gilleland; and Alice B. Fogel’s meditation on poetry, adapted from a lecture given at Chautauqua in 1999, “How to Live: Poetry, Mystery, & The Holy Silence.” Fogel asks: “How could we live without crossing the infinite, infinitesimal, invisible bridges to the holy right here, every remaining day, everywhere, around us?” This issue of Chautauqua may not, in fact, be holy, but it just might give you a reason to keep reading. And for those of us who think reading is right up there next to breathing in terms of survival, you’ll be grateful for the burst of fresh air.
[www.ciweb.org/literary-journalliterary-journal]

 

The Ghost Factory coverThe Ghost Factory

Issue 2

2008

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

A brief introductory note lets us know that this journal exists “to explore the variety of life in the United States – to tell the stories that make up our past and our present. We especially appreciate stories about countries of origin, ancestry, and cultural identity.” “Variety” in Issue 2 includes the tale of a Chinese American boy, a visit to India, a family story by the child of Korean immigrants, a parody about the “global diaspora,” photographs that appear to be of Mexican American subjects (though I confess this is purely conjecture on my part), and an essay about “black hair,” among other stories. There is as much diversity in the style and tone of these stories as there is in the cultural identities they represent.

Most affecting is a highly accomplished short essay, “Page One,” by Cristina Correa which relies on the effective anaphora “I can’t tell you about” to tell a raw and engaging story of the author’s experience of Africa, far and away the most memorable piece in the journal, beautifully conceived and executed; and arresting photos by Piper Kruse who knows how to capture a whole life in a glance.
[davidpeak.blogspot.com]

 

Iodine coverIodine

Volume 9 Number 1

Spring/Summer 2008

Biannual

Review by Maggie Glover

This was my first encounter with Iodine, and it was nice to see a magazine with so much space devoted to poetry. Over seventy poems are included in the 2008 Spring/Summer issue of this Charlotte-based journal! A few other things stood out to me, too: a Recommended Reading section in the back features a handful of fairly familiar journals (I hope the next issues feature an even larger selection, perhaps with some lesser known or brand new journals we wouldn’t see listed elsewhere).

I also noticed, somewhat disappointingly, that Iodine lacks Contributors’ Notes – it isn’t that I disapprove of the editors’ choice to keep the contributor information to a minimum (just the city and state of the author) as I understand that the editor may want the work to speak for itself. I was disappointed because I often look in the Contributor Notes to see where I might find more work of a particular poet whose piece I enjoyed. For example, I would have certainly liked to find out where I could read more of David Chorlton’s work – his poem “Forest Texture” shows great dexterity. Linda M. Fischer’s chilling poems, “Morning” and “Hands” featured such emotional honesty and vigor, I hope to see more of her work in the future, too.

In his introduction, editor and publisher Jonathan K. Rice thanks the many who have helped him put together this “little magazine” since the year 2000. Putting together a journal is a lot of hard work and it seems that Rice has undertaken most of it himself. Instead of lightening his load and featuring fewer poets, he chose to simply work harder. Certainly, he should be proud of his efforts.
[www.iodinepoetryjournal.com]

 

The MacGuffin coverThe MacGuffin

Volume 24 Number 3

Spring/Summer 2008

Triannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

I have long been a fan of this dependable journal. I like knowing what I’m reading (“poetry,” “fiction,” “creative non-fiction,” “essay,” and “art”). I like what the editor, in the world’s shortest introductory note, refers to as “artistry.” I like the straightforward and appealing presentation. And I like the solid, worthwhile work. This issue’s standouts include a short story by Vishwas R. Gaitonde, “The Wrath of Allah,” who manages to weave complex social, political, and cultural themes together into a short, convincing narrative that unfolds in the time it takes to journey overseas; an utterly astounding photograph, “Victoria Tree Trunks,” by poet (not photographer!) Sarolina Chang; a strong, decidedly post-9/11 story by Ron Savage; and poems by Richard E. Mezo, Michael Spring, and Leslie Ullman. Ullman’s poem, “By Night, Penelope,” manages to take familiar images (by which I mean classic) and give them a fresh presentation, transforming the myth in the process: “unstitches the shoreline, the sea, the barely / visible mountain – all that binds her / to her halted story and to the suitors / who dwell below her chamber / banging their goblets and cursing.”
[www.schoolcraft.edu/macguffin]

 

Mandorla coverMandorla

Issue 11

2008

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Produced at Illinois State University, Normal, with the support of UC San Diego and the College of Fine Arts at University of Texas, Austin, Mandorla is a truly unique and exceptional publication that deserves a spot on the shelves of our country’s finest libraries and literary collections. It is a beautifully edited and produced volume of poetry and “poetic essays” in Spanish and English, the work of editors who clearly understand quality when it comes both to content and product (a fantastic cover; fine paper; professional, polished appearance; smart, appropriate and refined design).

This issue includes a section of marvelous photos juxtaposing the ancient and modern by cover photographer Rubén Ortiz Torres, a gifted artist who works in many genres. Ortiz Torres was born in Mexico City and teaches at UC San Diego. His lengthy personal statement, “The Past is Not What It Used to Be,” translated from the Spanish by Roberto Tejada, appears here, as well. Mandorla features work in Spanish, work in English translated from the Spanish, and original work in English from an eclectic and global mix of writers. It could be said, I suppose, that the photography is, in fact, the only work that transcends language barriers or obstacles for those who do not read Spanish or do not read English. Frankly, if you don’t read Spanish, it would be worth learning the language to read Mandorla.

There is some truly remarkable work here (in both languages). It’s hard to single out poets and poems when there is almost nothing I would not recommend in these 400 plus pages, so let me say, simply, that the issue includes work by writers both living and dead from the Americas, including a number of young, but highly accomplished talents, such as Urayoán Noel of New York and Roman Luján of Mexico.

Much of the work strikes an unusually successful balance between the highly original and novel and the more traditionally poetic, by which I mean a reverence for the heft of words and poetic tropes, an appreciation for poetry as a way to expand meaning and reshape thinking – the work is exceptionally intelligent, socially alert and smart, linguistically satisfying and often surprising. The poetic habits represented in this work are clever, deft, and dynamic. There are no two pieces in the issue that could be confused with or stand in for each other, no simple occasional poems, no sentimental family narratives, no quick and unexamined glimpses of a setting in nature. Yet this is work that expects (and deserves) to be understood, that strives to illuminate, not to confuse or divert our attention from what matters or should matter to us.

The issue closes with 22 poems from two books by Angel Escobar (1957-1997) of Cuba, translated by Kristin Dykstra. His poem, “Urban Settler,” begins: “I came visiting the world / to create difficulties.” Mandorla is one enormous offering of utterly glorious difficulties.
[www.litline.org/Mandorla]

 

Ocho coverOcho

20

2008

Annual

Review by Maggie Glover

The rest of this issue’s title is “The Story of Clyde as told by Kemel Zaldivar.” This journal, featuring just nine poets (including guest editor Kemel Zaldivar, Octavio de la Paz and J.P. Dancing Bear), opens with a brief story about Clyde and Jessica, two lovers who mistakenly drift into the open sea. We are told by Zaldivar, that “this [story] is ultimately about the poems appearing in this issue.” In between the poems of authors, we are given more poem-chapters of Zaldivar’s Story of Clyde, which evolves into a myth about humanity, language, life, love and even God.

All of the poems are strong, and Zaldivar’s editorial choices are effective overall, but his choice to include Nicole Mauro’s beautiful “Swedish Pangram” and Angela Armitage’s powerful “Starburst” just as Jessica’s character is reintroduced into the Clyde framework was a particularly deft and memorable move.

The entire issue reads like a journey – a journey that is musical, spiritual, experimental and full of vivid but conflicting images that draw attention to the similarities of the represented experiences. Zaldivar asks us to abandon our expectations (or, at least, prepare to have them destroyed!), and join him in a world where the boundary between dreams and reality and fact and fiction are purposely blurred. I’m certainly glad I came along for the ride.
[www.mipoesias.com/OCHO]

 

Ping Pong coverPing Pong

2008

Annual

Review by Maggie Glover

Having never visited the Henry Miller Library, I had no idea what to expect from Ping Pong, the Library’s annual art and literary journal. When it arrived, I was impressed with the exceptional production quality: thick and glossy paper, beautiful print, vivid and colorful art pieces and, yes, the work inside the journal was striking, too.

The front matter states that “in the spirit of Henry Miller, Ping Pong encourages and supports free thinking and free expression.” I was happy to see that the editors chose a variety of writing and art to represent Miller’s spirit, and although he was referred to outright in some of the works (such as Suzanne Ryan’s opening poem, “Henry Miller Haiku”), his presence is only notional in others, which further heightened the feeling that this journal is a celebration of expression rather than an ode to one man’s work.

Honestly, there’s a lot of great stuff in this issue; truly memorable pieces include Brandi Walker’s haunting nonfiction “Letters from Southern Sudan,” Vladimir Kush’s movement-rich art pieces, and Anthony Hawley’s progressive “Productive Suffix.” Charles Bernstein’s “Henry Miller on Music” is a thoughtful recollection of his personal encounter with Miller’s “music blasphemy.”

Editor Maria Garcia Teutsch says in her introduction that “all of the artists and writers contained [within this edition of Ping Pong] speak a kind of truth we are honored to publish.” After finishing Ping Pong, I have to say that I agree completely.
[www.henrymiller.org/ping_pong.html]

 

The Raintown Review coverThe Raintown Review

Volume 7 Issue 1

May 2008

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This journal publishes work that “pays attention to formal requirements.” That, of course, means rhyme: “Though public / private lives draw swarms of pests, / Xeroxoxymorons are the irksomest” (“Doppelganger” by Alfred Corn) and “After the service, when the neighbors left, / breathing their last condolences like prayers, / it startled him that he was not bereft” (“Idle Comments” by Rhina Espaillat); established forms, most notably the sonnet, represented here by numerous contributors; invented forms, like a “villanette” from Anna Evans; and meter, what the editor refers to as syllable stressed verse – many types of formal strictures and discipline prevail in this issue. The poets represented here are not novices either to poetry or to “traditional” forms: Alfred Corn, Philip Dacey, Molly Peacock, Rachel Hadas, Richard Wilbur, W.D. Snodgrass, X. J. Kennedy, among others, and their work is polished, often exemplary.

There is a good deal of truly exceptional work in The Raintown Review, the tendency, sustained throughout the issue, to see form as an excuse for a sort of bawdiness aside. I particularly liked Samuel Maio’s sonnet, “The Spokesperson for His Generation”; several poems by Rachel Hadas, especially her sonnet, “The Morning After Christmas”; and poems by W. D. Snodgrass, whose work is as taut, yet tender as ever. The poems in The Raintown Review remind us that language is malleable and flexible. In the right hands, “formal requirements” can be sobering, delightful, and unpredictable.
[www.centralavepress.com/trr.html]

 

River Teeth coverRiver Teeth

Volume 9 Number 2

Spring 2008

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Despite the journal’s self definition – nonfiction narrative – one of this issue’s highlights is a piece that defies categorization, “On Dusk” by Teddy Macker, where the narrative is, I suppose we could say, implied and what we’re given to read is a series of observations: “Dusk’s antonym is cataclysm,” “This is not a dream, says dusk,” “There are mountains, says Dogen, hidden in mountains,” “The greatest gift of dusk is unassailable mildness.” There are three pages of these poetic remarks, as short as a sentence and as long as a short paragraph. Dusk is just the sort of emotional and physical experience that begs for this type of treatment, and I appreciate the shape of Macker’s thinking and the shape of the piece. But, it does call into question the meaning of “nonfiction narrative,” which serves, otherwise, I think, as a fine alternative to “creative nonfiction.”

I love a good essay, and quibbles over definitions aside, there are 13 strong ones here, including Macker’s. The range of styles and tones is appealing from family stories to rumination about landscape. Barbara Hurd’s personal essay about her mother, told against a narrative about light and place, and Lorence Gutterman’s, story (he’s an oncologist), about learning to read/hear what his patients are trying to convey to him are particularly successful. A fine piece by Mathew Davis about his years in the peace corps in Mongolia helps give the volume a sense of expansiveness, and Janet Yoder’s excellent essay, “Sensing Radiation,” weaves a personal story with larger environmental concerns in a broken narrative that is competent, touching and, in places, lyrical. River Teeth is not only a good read, but a good sample of how fine nonfiction writing can work.
[www.riverteethjournal.com]

 

Santa Fe Literary Review coverSanta Fe Literary Review

2008

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This issue would be worthwhile for the artwork alone – stunning reproductions of photos paintings, and drawings by Sialia Rieke, Ana June, Richard Sullivan, Norm Hamer, and Kim Gibbs, Rebecca O’Day, and Kira Becvarik, among others. Many of this issue’s poems and stories are equally memorable, and I was happy for the opportunity to get to know the work of writers I’d not encountered before, in particular poetry by Anne Valley-Fox Christien Gholson, and Mary McGinnis, and prose by Laura Madeline Wiseman. Wiseman’s essay, “To Starve to Die,” is a carefully crafted meditation on anorexia, more lyrical, less self-indulgent than much of the writing about “disordered eating” and more powerful for its balance between revelation and restraint.

The journal has a decided predilection for poetry that is conversational in style and tone, though there is, as well, some interest in the lyrical and abstract. Prose pieces tend to be the same, short and decidedly “of the moment,” with quick rhythms and conclusions. A poem by Rachelle Woods is a good summary of the journal’s cultural richness, “we don’t know if god is man or woman / so we are both . . . Allah is called / one word that is all words // so many colors to wear.”
[learn.sfccnm.edu/SFLR]

 

The Spoon River Poetry Review coverThe Spoon River Poetry Review

Volume 33 Number 1

Winter/Spring 2008

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Editor Bruce Guernsey’s introductory note is nothing if not frank: “We . . . have no use for the celebrity mentality that infects the current poetry scene.” It’s a laudable sentiment, and one I share, though I’m not certain that the refusal to provide contributors’ notes is a meaningful way to respond to the “star scene.” Nonetheless, it does force me to focus exclusively on the work presented, poems by more than two dozen poets, including featured poet Michael Van Walleghan, with whom an interview also appears, an essay on pedagogy, and a review essay.

The Spoon River Poetry Review is a good choice for readers with an eclectic poetry palate; Guernsey’s editorial vision is generous, and the journal avoids the kind of showy, overly precious work that often accompanies the “celebrity mentality.” Standouts for me are work by Michelle Mitchell-Foust and Rachel Dilworth, a personal narrative and a historical one. Van Walleghan’s musings about poetry interested me as much as his poems, with his urging that we differentiate between “true eloquence and gibberish.” I was moved and humbled by his reminder that “what matters is the spiritual health that comes from doing something well.”

This issue’s “Poets on Teaching” essay is “Conjuring Place in Poetry” by Sheryl St. Germain, the Director of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Chatham University. So many poets are also teachers, so this seems to me a useful and worthwhile component of a poetry journal. The essay is followed, clearly not an accident, by effective poems focusing on place by Michael B. McMahon. It’s hard not to feel good about a journal with a deliberate editorial hand.
[www.litline.org/spoon]

 

NewPages Literary Magazine Stand recent reviews:

Oct 6, 2008
Sept 22, 2008
Sept 2, 2008
Aug 14, 2008
July 14, 2008
June 16, 2008
May 27, 2008
May 8, 2008
April 2008
March 2008
Feb 2008
Jan 2008

Cumulative Index of Literary Magazines Reviewed